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Meatpacking facility causing concerns for people in Winchester

Looped Square Meat Processing Company
Posted at 3:00 AM, Mar 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-02 12:40:47-05

WINCHESTER, Okla. — A 25,000 square-foot meat processing facility designed to serve people living in a food desert is causing concern for residents in the Okmulgee County community of Winchester.

The Muscogee Nation opened the Looped Square Meat Processing Company just off Highway 75 in December 2021 using $15 million in CARES Act money.

Since the plant opened, nearby homeowners say they experienced a host of issues.

Amy Thrower's property backs up to the facility, and one of her biggest concerns is the wastewater lagoon.

“They have put their lagoon on the opposite corner of where their meat processing plant is, and there is a creek that divides that and so they are sending whatever makes it to the kill floor to the lagoon," says Thrower.

Another concern is the plant's actual wastewater.

“We have a very high water table and that is our water source for our home and for our animals, and so the only plan that we’ve seen for the plant is that it will disperse on both sides of the creek and whatever the final product is - it will lay on both sides of the creek so it will possibly end up in the creek and in our water," says Thrower.

Thrower’s property is not far from the meat facility and its lagoons.

Rob Kimery’s land is to the south of the plant, he’s worried his property value could take a hit,

“I am considering moving. I was planning on building a home on the back of the property here, but we have stopped that totally for right now. It’s driving property values down, and that’s what’s going to happen," says Kimery.

The facility includes a feeding coral, a slaughterhouse and open-air wastewater lagoons and aeration.

Both Thrower and Kimery say they are concerned about air-sprayed chemicals harming their family and livestock.

“I don’t think people realize what’s going on out here. You know the tribe has been really secretive about it, but they can do pretty much what they want, obviously," says Kimery.

Desperate for a solution, the town hired environmental attorney David Page. Page sent a letter of intent to sue to Muscogee Nation tribal leaders claiming the tribe violated the Clean Air and Clear Water Act.

“They failed to properly regulate the process they put in out there and didn’t require that they get a permit when they should have had a permit," Page says.

"Maybe there is some sympathy for the tribes, and I can understand that because the Indian Nations haven’t always been treated well. In this case, we are talking about public health, and it makes no difference if you are white, yellow, or brown or red. Viruses and bacteria affect us all the same way."

Page says this specific facility wasn't designed correctly. In January, the town held a virtual meeting with the Muscogee Nation to discuss their concerns, but since then, they say that talks have completely stalled.

"After the one meeting we had with them, they have not been approachable since then. They haven’t answered any of the concerns we have presented," says Thrower.

2 News reached out to the Muscogee Nation Chief and the Attorney General for an interview.

They sent 2 News Oklahoma the following statement:

"The Muscogee (Creek) Nation stands behind the integrity and operations of the Looped Square Meat Company. The Nation maintains that the facility meets EPA and USDA regulations. These claims lack merit and aim to discredit a company, that at its core, provides access to grocery items in a food desert. We are excited about the future jobs, economic growth and continued food security that it will bring to this area."

Page says once the plant starts slaughtering cattle at the site, he will take stronger, legal action.

‘We have given them notice letters and give them an opportunity to fix it before we file a lawsuit and that's where we are right now.”

2 News Oklahoma also reached out to the EPA to find out if the tribe was following EPA regulations.

They sent the following statement:

"EPA is working with the Muscogee Nation to determine if a Clean Air Act permit is necessary for the Looped Square meat processing facility. The Muskogee Nation provided information to EPA that the meat packing facility was designed to capture all wastewater and storm water associated with industrial activity in a total retention lagoon, with no discharge to waters of the United States. Facilities that do not discharge to a water of the United States do not require a Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit."

While a court battle appears to be looming, both Thrower and Kimery are left feeling their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

Now, this small town with limited resources says it is preparing to fight.

The townspeople of Winchester clarified that their concerns are not specifically with tribal people, but rather with the dangers they claim are associated with this specific plant.

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help support the town and its environment.

See this full story TUESDAY on 2 News Oklahoma at 10.

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